Percy Luney is removed after audit finds the school has a possible ghost
By David Damron
Sentinel Staff Writer
June 8, 2005
Florida A&M University placed the dean of its Orlando law school on
administrative leave and named a replacement Tuesday, citing early results of a
payroll audit that turned up a possible ghost employee at the new college.
The removal of Percy Luney, who led the school since 2001, stunned the local
legal community. Some observers said the dean had estranged some alumni and
supporters, however, by not boosting black enrollment at the historically black
Castell Bryant, interim president of FAMU, said her decision was based solely on
the audit and not on the racial distribution at the college or other job-related
"This decision was mine," Bryant said. "This is a payroll-audit
Bryant would not speak in detail about the audit, saying only that final results
would be presented to school trustees at the end of the month and would be a
factor in whether Luney might be allowed to stay as dean or in another position.
But Bryant acknowledged that the early findings showed that a donor, Kentucky
lawyer Shirley Cunningham Jr., appeared to have received a law-school salary
without teaching, part of a deal for him to award a $1 million gift to the
"It is not customary for someone to make a donation to an institution . . .
and present conditions of employment as a condition for it," Bryant said.
Pressed to offer details, she said, "We haven't finalized that payroll
James M. Douglas of Houston, a former president of Texas Southern University,
will serve as interim dean, replacing Luney. Douglas served as an early
consultant to the law school before it opened its doors to students in 2002. He
also had been one of the original finalists for the dean's job.
"I'm here to act as kind of a stopgap between this administration and the
next administration," Douglas said at the announcement in Orlando, "to
make sure this law school does not lose ground in its development process."
Luney, 56, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
In brief remarks by phone, Cunningham said that he planned to release documents
later this week that indicate a "number of individuals at the university
community knew of that donation" and its conditions.
Recent reports in the St. Petersburg Times and the Lexington (Ky.)
Herald-Leader said Cunningham received $100,000, plus $25,000 in benefits
as part of the donation deal. But Cunningham disputed those figures and said he
would release his own accounting of it.
The Lexington lawyer, a sharecropper's son inspired to attend law school by
former FAMU President Frederick Humphries, announced in 2001 that he was making
a $1 million donation to endow a professorship at the new law school. Part of
his wealth comes from the courtroom, where he has been on legal teams that sued
Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone over defective tires and sued American Home
Products, makers of the fen-phen diet-drug combination. Cunningham also taught
trial law at the University of Kentucky.
At the time of the donation, the Orlando Sentinel reported that the first
professor to fill Cunningham's endowed chair was "likely to be Cunningham
Bryant said Cunningham's work -- or lack of it -- for FAMU came to light in a
payroll audit she pushed as part of a larger review of spending and finances on
campus. A string of mismanagement and financial-control issues has dogged FAMU
in recent years, resulting in last year's removal of President Fred Gainous.
Bryant inherited those money and leadership woes when she arrived in January.
Tom Gallagher, Florida's chief financial officer, and the state Department of
Financial Services are looking at a number of potential "pending
investigations" related to FAMU, agency spokeswoman Tami Torres said. The
agency has divisions that probe misuse or abuse of taxpayer funds. Torres would
not comment on that work, only to say that one inquiry involving FAMU's
Institute on Urban Policy and Commerce is pending.
In a prepared statement, Bryant said FAMU's internal probe of its payroll made
it "necessary to make this decision" regarding Luney.
Luney taught at the Duke University School of Law and served as dean at North
Carolina Central University School of Law before coming to Orlando. He was
widely touted for his role in leading the fledgling law school, which replaces
the FAMU law school closed by the state in 1968.
The school gained provisional accreditation last year, which is adequate to let
students with FAMU law degrees take the bar exam to become lawyers. The first
graduating class of the new school received diplomas this spring.
The next milestone comes this fall, when the school is scheduled to leave its
home of three years at Orange Avenue and Central Boulevard and move to a new $28
million facility under construction at Hughey Avenue and Washington Street.
Given his early successes, legal officials were shocked at the news of
departure, speculating what other forces may have been at work.
Leonard Birdsong, a law professor at Barry University's law school in Orlando,
said Luney, who arrived with experience and contacts in accreditation circles,
appeared to have done everything right at FAMU. "I am shocked as to what
happened," Birdsong said.
He said some people contend that not enough of FAMU's enrollment is black,
however. Thirty-eight percent of FAMU's law-school enrollees are black, and 45
percent are white, according to school officials. Most of the other enrollees
Birdsong, who has known Luney since they were students at Harvard Law School in
the 1970s, said it is difficult to recruit and admit good students to a new
school, particularly in a city without a black majority population.
"Historically black schools certainly want to recruit black people. But
you've got to make tough decisions," he said. "I can't fault Percy for
what he's done."
Orlando City Council member Daisy Lynum said she also had heard complaints about
the racial makeup at the law school but gave Luney credit for getting the
program started. "He was recruited to get the school accredited,"
Lynum said. "He stayed focused on that mission."
Joseph Richard Hurt, dean of the Barry law school, said FAMU enrollment stacks
up well compared with other historically black colleges of law. He cited
American Bar Association statistics on North Carolina Central in Durham and
Texas Southern in Houston, where fewer than half of the students are black.
Hurt said he had never heard of anything like the donation deal Cunningham
worked out for himself. Still, with open records and discussion of the donation,
he found it odd that it was seen as "something of a secret."
FAMU Law School Dean Suspended;
Program Under Criminal Investigation
The Associated Press Tuesday, June 7, 2005
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The dean of Florida A&M University's law school was
placed on paid leave amid the findings of a payroll audit, and an institute
housed at the university is under criminal investigation for the possible misuse
of taxpayer dollars, officials said.
Percy R. Luney Jr. was suspended after an audit uncovered
information that made it "necessary," said interim president Castell
Bryant on Tuesday. No further details were released, but the information would
likely become public June 30, said school spokeswoman LaNedra Carroll.
When Luney took the top job in 2001, his annual salary was $195,000 - the
highest of any FAMU faculty member at the time.
James M. Douglas, a former president of Texas Southern University, was
appointed to temporarily replace Luney.
"Without question, Dean Douglas has the skills to give us what we need
during this period," Bryant said in a statement. "Together, we will
work to protect and secure the integrity of our law school."
Meanwhile, the Institute on Urban Policy and Commerce is under investigation
by the Florida Department of Financial Services. Details of the investigation
have not been made public.
The Institute's work was suspended in April, also based on a payroll audit,
Bryant said. Last month, all institute employees were terminated.
The institute trained minority small-business owners and helped low-income
citizens gain access to the Internet. Created at the urging of black lawmakers
during the 2000 legislative session to generate economic opportunity in
low-income communities, it had a budget of $1.5 million dollars.
FAMU has been under state scrutiny for financial mismanagement since audits
cited untimely bank reconciliations, poor accounting practices, deficient
check-writing controls and late vendor payments.
Bryant has enforced a spending moratorium on cell phone, travel and other